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2015 Draft Preview Chapter 2: The Early Favourites, Position Edition

All the hitters your fearless guide fearlessly loves, long before he should have any opinion at all.

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When I type "David Price" into Google search, both "David Price Cardinals" and "David Price St. Louis" are auto-complete options presented to me. I'm just going to go ahead and take this as a sign that the former Tampa ace is destined to escape the apocalyptic ruins of Detroit and make his way here, to the Gateway City, for the next six or seven years. And all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

(Seriously, though, for a team so committed to competing for the postseason and a possible championship in the short term, the Tigers seem awfully invested in handing outfield playing time to some really, really mediocre names. If they are, as it is believed, currently looking to invest in Max Scherzer long-term, at the cost of moving Price, one has to wonder why a package beginning with Jon Jay wouldn't look extraordinarily attractive to El Tigres. I wouldn't include Carlos in such a deal, but nearly anything else not nailed down would be fair game. I would go as high as a Jay/Kaminsky/miscellaneous arm type deal to try and bring in Price. Of course, I wouldn't be able to leave the bottom of my bottle of gin for several weeks after dealing away Rob Kaminsky, but I would still do it in that specific scenario.)

Anyhow, I'm writing this Tuesday evening, so if any overnight shenanigans took place that need to be spoken of, forgive me for not doing so here. Rather than attempting to predict the future one day hence, I shall now try to predict the future six years out by putting to digital paper the names of the players who will one day be great. That has to be easier than just guessing what has happened in the twelve hours or so between when I'm writing this and when it posts, right? (My guess for overnight happenings, if I were forced to make one, would be werewolf attacks. Hundreds of them. And not just any old werewolves; arctic werewolves unaffected by the moon's cycle and who do not fear the cold. Let me know how right I was in the comments! Unless you were eaten by a werewolf, I suppose, in which case you will just have to stand as part of the silent, statistical reminder to the world of my genius. For which I thank you, brave wolfbait.)

Today I bring you the players I like most at this incredibly early date on the position player side of things. Last week it was a troika of hurlers; this week it's a triumvirate of hitters. And also like last week, I will begin my group of three by immediately making it a group of four, with a caveat.

Brendan Rodgers is the player who gets my honourable mention this week, and like Mike Matuella last week, the only reason Rodgers doesn't make the list proper is due to his extraordinarily high draft standing, which could see him go as high as first overall. Since the Redbirds will once again not pick in the top three or five spots of the draft, using up a slot amongst the players I'm most excited about and most wish to highlight with a player who currently has zero chance of falling to our team seems like somewhat a waste of time. Ergo, Rodgers will get his due in a later post, and I'll bump another player up to his spot who is a more realistic possibility come draft day. For the record, though, Rodgers gets his spot at the top due to playing the most premium of positions (shortstop), at a very high level, as well as possessing remarkable hitting tools for a player of his age. He could end up with 60 or better grades in all five tools, at least early on in his career before he starts to slow down. He also, in spite of this season's struggles, has done a really remarkable job bringing Liverpool back into prominence.

On to the actual list.

Alex Bregman, SS/2B, LSU

6'0", 180 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Starting off with the only college player in this particular installment, we find an up-the-middle player with plus hitting skills and above-average power for his position. Sound a little like the guy I just said I wasn't putting on this list? Well, that's not exactly accurate, but also not exactly an accident. Bregman lacks the sheer athletic dynamism of Rodgers -- particularly in the speed department -- but brings that same element of a bat that would play much further down the defensive spectrum to a position at the top of it. He's kind of the realistic version of Rodgers, if that makes any sense.

Bregman is one of the more polished, advanced hitters in college baseball, capable of hitting the ball with some pop to all parts of the field. He's cut more from the Stephen Piscotty cloth as a hitter than that of Randal Grichuk, as he sprays line drives around with a level swing that doesn't produce a ton of loft ordinarily. He has more than enough strength and bat speed to hit for power, however, as you'll see in the video at the end of this, particularly when the ball is up in the zone. I could see him pretty easily hitting 15 home runs annually, but projecting anything higher than that feels like a reach given the type of hitter he is.

He runs a bit better than average, and has good instincts on the bases, but isn't a burner by any means. Overall, I could see Bregman turning into a 60 hit and 55/60 power guy at the next level, all while playing an up the middle position.

Speaking of positions, that's where we run into one of the big value debates with Bregman. He's a shortstop for now, but chances are he'll be a bit short on glove in pro ball to play there. He has a good arm -- not great, but good -- but iffy feet and just adequate range. If a team believed he could stay at short with more work and better coaching, they could certainly try him there and it probably wouldn't be a disaster. His best fit defensively, however, would likely be moving over to the keystone or maybe to third, depending on where the need/opportunity for playing time might be greatest.

There's another player Bregman might remind you of, and that's the Cardinals' current second baseman, Kolten Wong. Bregman certainly doesn't look much like Wong -- he's built more like Grichuk than the running-back-masquerading-as-a-baseball-player that is Kolten Wong -- but the profile is actually not all that different from what we saw Wong do in 2014. The upshot is that Bregman looks to have significantly more patience at the plate than Wong. He walked at nearly a 1:1 ratio in his freshman season at LSU, and improved to a 27BB:21K pace last year.

I've come to believe that betting on hitters in the draft is an extremely smart thing to do. By betting on hitters, however, I don't just mean betting on position players. What I mean by that is prioritising players with high-end hit tools; not to the exclusion of others, of course, but putting a real premium on that ability. If a player can hit, he'll always find a place to play in professional baseball. The fact Bregman plays a premium defensive position is a huge bonus, but when I put him on my favourites list I'm betting on the bat, as I think he could be one of the better pure hitters this draft class produces, bar none.

And now, a video of Bregman socking some dingers! via New Mexico Baseball

Nicholas Shumpert, SS, Highlands Ranch HS (Colorado)

6'0", 180 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Another up-the-middle athlete, Shumpert fits the bill of a high round draft pick a bit better than Bregman, really. It's rare a player who mans such a premium position, with offensive talent of any sort, makes it to college, and in all likelihood Shumpert will not.

With across-the-board tools that rate at least average, where Shumpert really stands out to me from what is looking like an extremely deep pool of middle infield talent is in his feel for the game. He's the son of former big-league utility man (primarily a second baseman, if you had to call him anything), Terry Shumpert, and Nicholas carries himself like the child of a big leaguer. His footwork is much more advanced than the vast majority of players his age; he understands how to set himself to make the throw from deep in the hole across to first or the art of the transfer around the second base bag in a way players don't generally get until they've been in pro ball a few years.

Which isn't to say Shumpert is all polish and no tools; not by a long shot. He's a tightly-wound bundle of muscle fiber, and it shows in the way he plays. He's a plus runner, both quick and fast, and that speed plays both on the basepaths and in the field. He doesn't have the same kind of gliding rangyness that a player like, say, Oscar Mercado possesses, but Shumpert is more than capable of covering plenty of ground at short. He has a big arm, more than enough to make throws from the hole or making the turn at second on the double play. All of his defensive tools play up even further thanks to that fundamental soundness and knowledge I already mentioned.

Where things really start to get interesting in talking about Shumpert is at the plate. At the plate, he shows tremendous hand speed and strong forearms, producing batting-practice displays the likes of which you don't often see from a middle infielder. In game action, he's a bit more up and down; there are times he swings under control and shows an ability to go the other way with pitches, all the while doing real damage thanks to plus bat speed and a very good sense of balance in his swing. At other times, though, he'll get long, selling out for power and overswinging, when in reality he really shouldn't have to. His actual hitting ability is tied up in his approach as well; when he stays balanced and under control, Shumpert the Younger is capable of using all fields and controlling the strike zone reasonably well. When he doesn't, all that goes out the window. He gets caught playing the swinging for the fences game both in showcases and in game action, and the results are nearly always bad.

I've seen Shumpert hit with his hands both up high either above his head or pointing somewhat toward the pitcher, and low, with the bat closer to his shoulder at address, and I have to say I prefer them low. The swing seems longer when the hands start off higher.I will say I have some modest concerns about Shumpert's body; he's a compact, tightly-packed athlete for now, but having seen the shape of his father's body -- not to mention plenty of other athletes of his shape and size -- Nicholas will have to be careful about how he adds weight and strength. He lacks projection for this same reason; it's not impossible to see Juan Uribe's general roundness in Shumpert's build.

The ceiling with Shmpert is sky-high; the combination of athleticism and workable knowledge of the game puts him in a class almost by himself for me right now. The questions are all basically a variation on the idea of, "How much will he hit?" and at some point, that's really the question with pretty much every prospect, isn't it? I believe in the hands and speed and the arm and all the other tools. There's little reason to think Shumpert will have to move off shortstop anytime soon, and so the offensive upside is the thing most worth debating. How one answers that question likely tells you where Shumpert should be ranked. For me, that's very, very high.

via Student Sports

Kyle Tucker, OF, Gulf Coast High School (Florida)

6'4", 175 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws:R ight

So, what's so great about this guy?

In my first two selections for this list of my favourite guys in this draft so far, you see my preference for up the middle athletes pretty clearly. However, the tool I mentioned in talking about Bregman, the carrying tool of hitting ability, comes into play for my third and final player, as Kyle Tucker may be, in my opinion, the most talented pure hitter on the high school side of things in this entire draft class.

Currently, Tucker's swing is described as, 'unorthodox'; 65 years ago, that would not have been the case. His bat load prior to swinging is extremely flat and sort of 'around' his body, much more in the style of a Stan Musial or Ted Williams than the way most modern hitters are taught to swing. I'm not sure there's a hitting coach in the game right now who would actually teach a player to load the way Tucker does; the concern, I'm sure, would be him getting beaten by superior velocity.

The thing is, though: it works.

For Tucker, that is. I would never advocate a one-size-fits-all philosophy in hitting instruction, outside of a few key fundamentals, although I do admit to being very curious to see how Tucker's swing fares against high-end competition. However, that unorthodox/caught out of time swing Kyle Tucker possesses currently allows him to spray line drives to any and all parts of the field, as well as hitting for above-average pop already. He barrels the baseball as well as any hitter in the draft this year, and for me it isn't necessarily all that close.

The tools, aside from the pure bat to ball skills, are solid as well for Tucker, though he has a long way to go in terms of physical maturity compared to either of the other players covered here. He's extremely projectable (read: skinny as hell), and gives the impression of consisting of nothing but a huge bundle of arms and legs at times on the field. He runs well and has a big arm, so he can really play anywhere in the outfield, but right would seem to be the best fit long term. He plays mostly center right now, but likely won't have the defensive chops to stick there in pro ball. He's a corner guy, and he should be a good one, and if you're betting on Kyle Tucker the way I'm betting on Kyle Tucker, it's the bat you're placing that bat on.

The power for Tucker is more projection than production right now; he's less mature heading into the draft than his older brother Preston was, and his over-the-fence pop shows up a bit more in batting practice and on the showcase circuit than it does in games to date. He already possesses tremendous power just in his hands, however, so the thump should absolutely come as he grows up and fills out. He's already capable of driving the ball with authority to all fields.

At this exact moment, I would probably most comp Tucker to Bradley Zimmer, the San Francisco outfielder drafted in the first round by the Indians last year, in terms of pure hitting ability and long, loping athleticism. However, unlike Zimmer, Tucker shouldn't have nearly so much trouble filling out that lean frame and packing on good weight over the next few years, and at that point Tucker should offer a clear upgrade on Zimmer in the power arena.

There are plenty of pitfalls along the way which could snag a guy like Tucker, of course; as a likely corner-only guy he won't derive much value from his defense unless he's truly elite,and thus the bat will have to prove his carrying tool. For my part, though, I have very little doubt that turns out to be the case with Tucker, and the team picking him this June ends up looking like geniuses a few years down the road. In my hit tool uber alles evaluation, there is no other player on the board whose offensive ceiling I would be more excited to bet on than his.

via Steve Fiorindo

and via PerfectGameBaseball

Well, that's another batch in the can, ladies and gentlemen. Favourites are over; I'll be back next week with the first themed batch of these for 2015 as we head inexorably toward June, which is never as far away as it seems when I start charting out how many weeks and how many Wednesdays are between me and the draft.